mardi 14 mai 2013

Where to live in Latin America : a (highly subjective) review of 14 towns


You want to move to Latin America but you don’t know where ?
Here you go: let's review 14 big cities of Latin America.
On the starting line: Bogota - Buenos Aires - Caracas -Lima - Medellin - Mexico City - Monterrey - Montevideo - Panama City - Quito - Rio de Janeiro - Santiago de Chile - Santo Domingo - Sao Paulo.

I tried to rank each one of these cities according to the following 16 criteria :

Are the local girls war pigs or hot as hell ? For decency’s sake, we are only considering the top 20% good looking girls in this ranking, thereby excluding grandmothers, overweight women, cripples, bearded ladies, leprous, human centipedes and more generally those who can’t seriously make the cut.
*Sorry for you girls : in all fairness there should be an equivalent criterion for guys hotness, but unfortunately, life is unfair.

Does the country have a strong growth potential or is it stuck in stagnation ?

As a foreigner, is it simple to create a company ? Are the taxes low or insanely high ? How developped is the local business ecosystem ?

Is it simple to get a visa or f**k you ?

Are there good clubs, good bars, good music ?

Is it more like Bagdad or Switzerland ?

Urban open spaces, bicycle paths, sport facilities…

Is the airport central and/or well served ?

Heavenly or nightmarish ?

Affordable or expensive ?

Is it a truly international city with a mix of different cultures and origins or... not really ?

Is the air breathable ? Are the streets littered with dog crap just like Paris ? Are there noisy street vendors, annoying jugglers and greedy mimes all over the place ?

Do you get overcooked meat at the restaurant when you ask for a blue steak ? You want to put curtains in your living room and the vendor says he’ll be back the next day to install them : one month later he did not show up yet… You ask for an expresso and you get a small cup of cold foul tasting americano… You ask for the directions of some place in the street and your interlocutor is happy to tell you that it’s « this way, guerito » even though he has no idea of where it is… This is what I call the rating of « No fucks given ».

Are you gonna be bugged by Nazi wannabes in uniforms like in the U.S. or are you free to do whatever you want as long as your behavior doesn’t harm anybody ?

Hospitals, transports, water supply network, electricity, building construction standards…

Pretty much self-explanatory.

Ready ? FIGHT !

Well, it depends on your condition and what you're looking for:
  • If you're an entrepreneur and you're looking for a place to start a business, you should consider moving to Mexico City (if you don't care about pollution), Monterrey (if you can live surrounded by scary drug lords and don't mind dodging a few lost bullets once in a while), Panama City (if you can take the extremely humid and warm weather), Bogota (random weather, polluted), or to a lesser extent Santiago (the market is not very big and Chile is quite remote but at least the corruption is low, unlike almost all the other countries of this list), Montevideo (Low corruption, nice human-sized town, but remote, expensive and lacks an international atmosphere) or Lima (Good potential economic growth. Warning: ugly, polluted and depressing town. Has the advantage to be the capital city of the country with the most amazing landscapes of all Latin America, according to your humble servant). Also, you should avoid Brazil at all costs if your goal is to start a business, unless you like nightmarish bureaucracy and very high taxes. You have been forewarned :) 
  • If you have (a lot of) money and want to live the good life, Rio de Janeiro may be a good place for you. With its wonderful landscapes and its world-renowned beaches, you can't really go wrong with this choice.
  • If your primary concern is to live on the cheap, Quito (Ecuador) could be a wise choice. However, don't expect anything like an international vibe, let alone an acceptable nightlife... If you want to take advantage of Ecuador's low cost of living but don't want to live surrounded by the mountains at 2,800 meters / 9,350 feet above sea level, you should check out Cuenca: a more human-sized city... And even cheaper for you... Cheapskate ;-)
  • If you want to live the Carribean life, enjoy a very good weather, awesome beaches not so far away from town, and a very relaxed atmosphere, Santo Domingo is the place. On the flipside, infrastructures are pretty bad (frequent power outages among other things), and the town is by no means a city with an international feeling. Tip: if you're driving and a local cop wants to arrest you, don't mind stopping your car: due to budget cuttings, the police forces usually don't fill their vehicles tanks, so they won't chase you (and they won't give a f**k).
  • If you want to live in a beautiful, incredibly vibrant european-style city, Buenos Aires is probably the only place in Latin America where you want to consider living. Unfortunately, Argentina has been plagued by recurring economical crises since its independance for a very long time, so don't expect any kind of economic stability or business friendly environment. 
  • If you're after really beautiful girls and want to live rather cheaply in a modern city with excellent infrastructures, pretty good weather and beautiful natural surroundings, Medellin (Colombia) should do the trick. The city that used to be one of the most dangerous in the world in the 90's has evolved well and is now pretty safe (as long as you don't go to the northern slums). That sounds too good to be true ! What's the catch ? Well, the city in itself is far from beautiful (even the nice neighborhoods), the atmosphere is not international at all and overall, once you've visited the Botero Museum for the third time, there are very few things left to do. 
  • If you're a young expat sent by your company and you want to live the crazy life in a huge international business hub, Sao Paulo is an acceptable choice. Sure, the city is ugly, incredibly expensive and not very safe, but the atmosphere is international, girls are hot and nightlife is quite good. And you're not so far away from Rio if you want to take some well deserved vacations...
  • If you want to, ahem, move to Caracas... Well... Don't. Just don't. Sorry, dear Venezuelian friends: hopefully, things are gonna change... Some day. 
METHODOLOGY: to rank each criterion, I used my personal experience as well a few hardcore Latam travellers and businessmen’s points of view.
I know: it is completely subjective (but hey, it's not as if I didn't warn you in the title)… But at least it gives a starting point if you want to know more or less what are the pros and cons of all these big cities… Or at least I hope it does.
Sorry if you consider that your favorite town (or worse: your hometown...) wasn’t fairly ranked. I didn't mean to offend anybody and it is more than likely that we won’t agree on everything. If you don’t approve some of the ratings, please send me a PM :)

By the way, as english is not my mother tongue, the wording/grammar may not be appropriate in some parts. Please forgive me !

Special thanks to Allin Akhbar and to Dr Evil for helping me write down this article.

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